If UK DVCs are to replicate the impact of the most effective North American models, they will need to learn from their willingness to carry innovation beyond the point of sentencing.

Problem-solving courts research round-up – November 2017

Posted on 16 Nov in

The research round-up collects the most interesting and useful insights on problem-solving courts to help practitioners and leaders keep up to date with the emerging evidence base. This first issue showcases two items: an analysis of all the evidence to date on how domestic violence courts impact re-offending and a deep dive into how race influences perceptions of procedural fairness at two problem-solving courts.

Do Domestic Violence Courts Work? A meta-analytic review examining treatment and study quality
Leticia Gutierrez, Julie Blais, and Guy Bourgon

Domestic violence courts (DVCs) are an established problem-solving model on both sides of the Atlantic, and there is good evidence that they improve victim satisfaction and perceptions of safety. However, evidence of their impact on re-offending is more mixed. This study sought to take a systematic look at the existing evidence on how DVCs impact on re-offending. It reviewed 20 outcomes studies which had collectively evaluated a total of 26 courts in the US and Canada.

The review found some evidence that DVCs reduce general re-offending and repeated domestic violence compared to normal courts. However, when the least rigorous studies were excluded the evidence did not conclusively demonstrate that, on average, DVCs have an impact on re-offending.

The review also looked at the differences between DVCs. It found that only a few of the DVCs which had been studied were working in accordance with the established principles of risk-need-responsivity (RNR). The RNR model has three elements: using actuarial tools (such as OaSys) to measure the risk level of the offender, providing evidence-based interventions which address the needs driving their offending and being responsive to their individual circumstances. Those courts which adhered to RNR principles were found to be much more effective.

This analysis has interesting implications for practice here in the UK. Given the lack of evidence suggesting that any intervention is particularly effective with DV perpetrators, the suggestion that an RNR-informed DVC can be effective is an interesting one: especially given that actuarial risk assessment is day-to-day practice in UK courts.

However, as we have pointed out in our review of the evidence on problem-solving courts, specialist domestic violence courts, the standard model in England and Wales, do not use ongoing judicial monitoring of offenders nor do they have a flexible range of interventions with which to respond to the individual needs of offenders. If UK DVCs are to replicate the impact of the most effective North American models, they will need to learn from their willingness to carry innovation beyond the point of sentencing.

Read the full article here.

Do Race and Ethnicity Matter? An Examination of Racial/Ethnic Differences in Perceptions of Procedural Justice and Recidivism Among Problem-Solving Court Clients
Cassandra A. Atkin-Plunk, Jennifer H. Peck and Gaylene S. Armstrong in Race and Justice 1 (29)

Work to enhance defendants’ perceptions of procedural fairness (or procedural justice) is well established as a core component of problem-solving courts. However, less is known about whether working in this way can impact the “trust gap”: the lower levels of trust in the justice system felt by members of ethnic minorities. This new research explores this question by looking at the how race impacts on perceptions of procedural justice among 132 defendants in two problem-solving courts in the USA.

The study found that although average perceptions of procedural fairness were very high among defendants who had been through the problem solving courts, black defendants had significantly more negative views than their white and Hispanic counterparts. We can infer that, in this case, the generally effective efforts by the courts to improve the experience of all defendants did not in themselves fully address racial disparities in trust.

The authors of the study suggest that in order to address the trust gap, courts should focus specifically on the experience of ethnic minority defendants. They recommend actions such as training that helps people working in courts to understand and communicate effectively with people from ethnic minority background and working to increase the diversity of courts staff and judges.

The study also looked at the relationship between procedural fairness and re-offending. It did not find perceptions of procedural fairness impacted on re-offending, although the authors note that many previous studies have found that improving procedural fairness reduces re-offending.

The findings of this paper are very much in line with the recent Lammy Review which looked at race and the criminal justice system in England and Wales. That review found that distrust in the criminal justice system was significantly higher among British-born ethnic minorities than among white people. Given the very different histories of race in the criminal justice system across the US and the UK, we should be wary of assuming that the research can be translated directly, but nonetheless, the paper makes interesting reading.

Read the full article here.